28-30 July 2017
The Young Adult Literary Convention (or YALC) is a massive annual celebration of the best young adult books from around the world. Thousands of book lovers and authors descend on the London Film and Comic Con and we were absolutely thrilled to be there again this year. It was a chance to meet big authors like Rhian Ivory and Philip Womack. We even spotted actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Matt Lucas wandering around…
It was a whirlwind few days, with three of our fabulous authors – Olivia Levez (The Island, The Circus), Nikki Sheehan (Swan Boy, Goodnight Boy) and Sarah Mussi (Room Empty) – hosting workshops and participating in panel discussions before signing copies of their books. Meeting the people who love your books is such an exciting part of the writing and publishing process.
This year was particularly exciting for us as we revealed shiny, early reading copies of our big new title for autumn, Otherworld by writer and actor Jason Segel and author Kirsten Miller. This is the first in a fast-paced sci-fi and gaming trilogy that we are obsessing over here at Rock the Boat. The story centres around 18-year-old Simon, who has always used gaming as a way to escape his tedious life. When a top-of-the-range virtual reality game called Otherworld launches to a select few gamers, he can’t wait to get his hands on a headset. But behind the incredible graphics lurks a very real danger. And soon Simon finds himself battling through wondrous and terrifying realms to save his only friend Kat. At its heart, this engaging thriller asks the question we’ll all soon be asking: if technology can deliver everything we want, how much are we willing to pay?
Otherworld isn’t out until 31 October 2017, but some lucky YALC-goers managed to get their hands on the limited edition, dazzling proofs. We held daily raffles and book blogger giveaways via twitter throughout . It was great to see the buzz generated both at YALC and online. Even Jason Segel was getting in on the action, liking and re-tweeting posts by the raffle winners and bloggers who took to social media to voice their enthusiasm!
The response has been amazing, with some incredible reviews from YALC bloggers already online. Blogger Queen of Geekdom wrote: ‘I came to the novel hoping to have it compete for my love of Ready Player One. What I got was so much more… This is a book that has been missing from my reading life for a long time.’ The Tween Book Blog has said ‘I was literally reading it everywhere, on the bus, at the playground, whilst I was walking and in shops… you couldn’t put it down.’ We love that they enjoyed it as much as we do, and can’t wait for more fo you to experience this brilliant new world Jason and Kirsten have created!
It is always such a treat going to YALC, engaging with you, the readers, and seeing your excitement and support for our lovely and talented authors. The convention really pulses with high spirits throughout the weekend. YALC is a great reminder of why we do what we do and a fantastic opportunity to connect with fellow book lovers.
We spoke to one fan in particular who had sat down and read the entirety of AJ Steiger’s gripping Mindwalker in one sitting at the convention last year! That is real dedication…
Until next year YALC, it was a pleasure.
Writing a second book is hard. Really hard. The first one is written for yourself, with the freedom to explore, to be creative, to find your own style, to dip in and out of different writing methods, to lose yourself in words. That feeling of being in the zone, utterly at one with your writing and your passion. No one’s looking over your shoulder, not really.
Then comes the second, and the deadline looms just as you’re in mid publication frenzy for your first ever published book. This time it’s different: as well as writing the thing, you have your daily life to maintain, complete with job, (in my case lesson planning, teaching, exam marking), and family commitments and all of the tiny things that make up your daily existence. Eating. Food. That sort of thing. But this time, there’s another set of pressures, because now you have to learn how to be a self-promotion guru, a whizz at keeping up with the white noise and nuances of social media; an organiser of events, school visits, trips to London, split train tickets, best Premier Inn offers; an arranger of school assemblies, book tours, book sales.
And somehow, in the midst of all of this, you have to try to find the time and head space to write another book. You have to keep your head clear as reviews come in, news of others’ successes, triumphs, fellow authors who all seem to be doing bigger and better things than you. You have to not cringe as you post yet another promo author post on Facebook, wondering whether your friends are truly sick of the sight of you and your damned book yet.
It’s hard. And scary.
I hit the wall three times at 30,000 words with The Circus and each time had to start from scratch. I started to sweat as my word-count crept up to the 27,000 mark, wondering when that truly awful blankness and book hatred would strike. And it did. Every time. By far my best circus act with this one was Hitting The Wall: a death defying feat of pure unperformance and inaction.
Slam. Three times.
What should I do? My deadline was scarily close, and all I really had to show for it was a girl named Willow and a few nicely described circus scenes. What did she want? I wasn’t sure. Why was she running away? I didn’t really know. Where was she actually running to? Nope. Didn’t know that one either.
I did have her voice though. I knew she had a story to tell, if I could only access it and stop panicking. In the end I took a deep breath and sent my agent, Clare Wallace, an email with the header: HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
She phoned me straight away and listened calmly as I hiccupped my way through all of my worries and frets. Within the hour she had got my deadline extended, offered practical help with my upcoming launch and reassured me that she got this a lot from debut authors and I wasn’t alone. Immediately the huge burden had lifted and I was able to focus on enjoying the publication of The Island.
Clare gave me permission not to write anything at all for a few weeks. And paradoxically, because I wasn’t supposed to be writing, the ideas came flooding in. I grabbed the dog, took myself off to my caravan and sat outside the pub with a pint of SA, staring over unspeakably beautiful Cardigan Bay, daydreaming.
And that’s when it came to me. Willow needed a friend. Of course she did. She needed someone to complement her spoilt selfishness and lighten up the darker moments of her experience of being on the streets. I thought about my favourite film, The Midnight Cowboy, the poignant tale of a naïve country boy seeking his fortune in New York City, starring Jon Voight as Joe Buck and Dustin Hoffman as his trickster friend, Ratso. That was it:
Willow Stephens needed her Ratso.
So Suz was born, Willow’s companion through all of her adventures. She was already present in my story, although I hadn’t realised it. In an early scene I had a brief description of a homeless girl feeding ham to the pigeons in Charing Cross, and this girl grew to become Suz, Willow’s friend and circus manager.
Next, how to fix the setting? Originally, The Circus was set in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, an evocative town which manages to be seedy, magical, squalid and glamorous all at the same time. I’d visited Plovdiv the previous autumn as part of my research and watched children throwing each other up into the air on trampolines outside its Cirque Balkanique. Miniature ponies pulled at trampled grass in the circus grounds – a carpark outside Lidl. I sat in our hire car, scribbling notes and watching. I loved the juxtaposition between the tawdry and the surreal. Those descriptions made their way straight into my circus adventure, but I kept drawing to a halt every time I tried to get Willow there. How to get a runaway to Bulgaria? I didn’t have enough technical information, hadn’t had time to travel by train to follow her possible journey.
I tried setting it in Paris, made her a stowaway in a coach (that was the second draft that grinded to a half at 30,000 words). No good. Panic.
Then I visited my brother in Hastings. Immediately I stepped off the train I knew I had found my setting. Hastings has it all: edge, street performers, a creative vibe, down-at-heel bits, upmarket bits, tattiness, an ineffably lovely seafront and plenty of weird and wonderful places for Willow to stay as she attempted to find the circus and herself.
Suz. Hastings. These were the missing ingredients. The rest was a whizz to write, a breeze after all of the juggling acts, the tightrope walk, the knife edge.
Ultimately, there was the final performance: an amazing book launch at my school, complete with talented student and staff performers!
What have I learnt about writing book two? What I’ve always known, what all writers know in their hearts. You’ll get there. Just keep doing what you’re doing, one wobbling step at a time.
The show must go on.
Right from the beginning of City of Saints & Thieves, I was taken with Tina: stealthy, smart, courageous and determined. We need more characters like her. How did you go about creating her?
I knew I wanted to set the book in modern, urban Africa, someplace like Nairobi, Kenya (where I lived for three years). I started with the idea of a Robin Hood type character – if Robin Hood was an orphaned teenage refugee girl in Africa. And then I thought, to survive alone in a place like Nairobi (or Sangui City, as it turned out) you’d have to be really tough, savvy, and street wise. Tina’s character developed from there – what would make her like that? What would have had to happen to her to toughen her up? How would she have survived? And under all that, what would her hidden weaknesses be? Her back-story all evolved from figuring out the answers to these questions. And that history helped shape her character traits and strengths and flaws.
You have spent some working for NGOs in Africa. Can you speak about your experiences and how it helped shape this book?
For about three years I was based in Kenya, but spent most of my time travelling around Africa for work. My job was to interview refugees who were under consideration for resettlement to countries like the US. Basically, I listened to their stories and made legal arguments for why they should be considered refugees. I would start interviews by telling people, “I need you to tell me about all the bad things that have happened to you that made you have to leave your country, starting at the beginning.” (I kept it light and fun like that. J) It was fascinating work, but as you might imagine, it could be mentally and physically draining. I calculated at some point and estimate that I probably listened to around 4,000 stories. So a lot of the refugee-related parts of the book come from there – no one story in particular, but the basic bones of what might cause someone to flee Eastern Congo, and what it might be like to live as a refugee.
What do you think most people would be surprised to learn about life in modern day Africa?
So much! That it’s not all wild animals and child-like people in tribal dress. Or on the other hand, that it’s not all famine and corruption and wars. I know the most about Nairobi, where I lived, and the thing is, there are so many cool things happening in IT and entrepreneurship and social justice and art. Lots of it way beyond what’s happening in the West. I mean, yes, there are animals and very strong cultural identities, and conflict as well, but you can also find all the latest gadgets; and extremely passionate social justice warriors; and smart, creative ways of getting around things like not having a reliable power grid or municipal infrastructure (solar-powered communal toilets that make fertilizer, for example).
The cities tend to be very young, with a lot of people coming from the rural areas for work or school, so there’s all this energy and vitality. I think Westerners like to think of “Africa” as this monolithic place stuck in time, and yes, there are places where people continue to live like they have for centuries, but Africa is huge, and incredibly diverse. And it’s not like people aren’t connected to the modern world. Often you see that people take the useful bits of modern life and adapt them to their current situations. In Kenya at least, everyone has a cell phone. Doesn’t matter how far out you live, whether you herd goats for a living, you’ve got one. Even if the only way to charge it is to pay the guy at the one-room kiosk in the middle of pasture land who has a solar panel a few cents. Like many places in the world, it’s both very global and very local at the same time.
There’s a line in the book that particularly struck me. It’s when Mr Greyhill, an American businessman now living in Sangui City, Kenya, says to Tina, a Congolese refugee: ‘It’s funny. We hardly ever get to choose where our souls find their homes.’ Can you talk about what he means there?
I think that people are often surprised to find themselves attached to a place they weren’t intending on loving, or even liking. Mr. Greyhill didn’t go to East Africa because he liked the scenery; he went there to make money off it. But Sangui City and the region got under his skin and he found himself more comfortable there than back in the US. I think it’s one of those things that can happen with anyone who reluctantly moves into an entirely different culture. You hear about the same thing from the opposite perspective. Immigrants who come to the UK or the US don’t necessarily want to be there – “home” is where they came from; moving away is a way to make money – but over time it becomes more and more difficult to go back and feel comfortable as well. Mr. Greyhill is one of the lucky ones who realizes that he really does feel more at home in Sangui, and that he loves it and may never leave, even if he’s one of the “bad guys” who are taking advantage of the region and profiting off of it at the expense of the locals. He justifies his work, saying that if it wasn’t him doing it, it would be someone worse. It’s a rather colonialist mentality, extremely flawed, but you feel a twinge of sympathy for him, which is pretty much exactly who Mr. Greyhill is.
After the murder of Tina’s mother, Tina needed to look after her younger sister and take care of herself. She also fled the Congo with her mother at a young age because of how dangerous their life became. Despite this very difficult life, Tina has a good head on her shoulders and a strong moral compass. How have her circumstances shaped who she is?
Even though Tina lost her mother at a very young age, she still looks back to her as a sort of moral guide. She’s constantly thinking back to when her mother was alive, using what she said and did to help Tina make her “rules” for survival. This looking back, in a way, counterbalances everything Tina’s learning with the Goonda gang. At the same time, dwelling so much on the past leads to Tina’s obsession with getting revenge. Which then again, has to be tempered by her very here-and-now need to take care of her sister. (People are complicated, right?) A big part of the story, though, is that very Young-Adultish theme of figuring out who you are – understanding where you came from, what part of you is like your parents and what part is all you. She’s learning throughout the story who she is and who she wants to be.
Finally, what do you hope readers will take away from City of Saints & Thieves?
First and foremost, I hope they’re entertained! We love stories because they suck us in and keep us wanting to know more. We want to know what happens, and at the end of the day, I really believe in the power of being swept away in a story. And telling a compelling story is hard! For me to really love something, there has to be that element of mystery and suspense that keeps you turning pages. So I hope I’ve accomplished at least that. And then, of course, I hope that those people who weren’t familiar with this world and these subjects come away having seen something new, something interesting, a story they wouldn’t have otherwise known. And I would hope that they’re glad to now know it. Especially when it comes to global social justice and politics these days, understanding people and cultures and situations that don’t reflect just our own (Western) perspective is so crucial. And I would hope that they would see refugees as not just faceless masses, victims of violence and war, but as real individual people with so many more facets and identities. Tina wouldn’t call herself a refugee first; she’d call herself a thief, a sister, a daughter. That’s who she’d want to be seen as, just like anyone else.
1. Can you share the inspiration behind Room Empty? What compelled you to put Dani’s story to paper?
Room Empty came to me whilst listening to a self-development video on You Tube – I love self-help! I regularly listen to life coaches on YouTube and one session in particular inspired me. The coach focused on looking at what was in our ROOM. Everyone has a room, it’s the internal space where we keep emotional secrets hidden. It was such an arresting and visual image, I could not resist having a quick look at what was in mine. There are many skeletons in the cupboards of my family – mental illness, addiction, pain and death have all played walk-on parts – so it did not take me long to realise it was packed pretty full, and how difficult it is to detach oneself from such a place. It was from there that I started to think about everyone else’s rooms, specifically Dani, the protagonist in Room Empty. What was locked behind her door, and could she escape from it in order to be happy?
2. Room Empty deals with drug addiction, anorexia , rehabilitation and traumas. Mental health is currently a big topic in the UK and readers are calling for books dealing with these issues head on. Why do you think it’s so important that young adult literature talk about this?
As in so many areas of human development, literature and stories often lead the way. A well-told, moving narrative can get inside the human condition, showcasing inner truths about what it is to be human. In ROOM EMPTY, I invite readers to meet characters who are struggling with addiction and mental health, confronting their inner truths at full speed. Similarly, I think it is no exaggeration to say that for centuries we as a society have treated those with mental ill health in a shameful and barbaric way. There is so much more that can be done to get people the kind of help they need without feeling ashamed. If ROOM EMPTY gives just one reader a glimpse into the life of someone struggling with mental illness and helps opens their heart up a little, then it will have done well.
3. What do you hope readers will get out of Room Empty?
Apart from a story that grips and moves and makes the reader think, I hope readers will stop and examine themselves, their belief systems and decide to question reality a little more vigorously. I hope readers will identify with Dani and come to understand that however bright and shiny any family looks to an outsider, inside nearly all are people struggling, dealing and coping. Ultimately I hope the reader will feel they are not alone; you can find hope and love even in the darkest and scariest of empty rooms.
Meet Helen Donohoe, the author of Birdy Flynn, out now!
Helen studied politics at Manchester University and the LSE and has dedicated her career to speaking up for the powerless and invisible as a campaigner, lobbyist, volunteer and writer. She recently completed the MA in Creative Writing (Novels) at City University, London, winning the PFD Novel Writing Prize for Birdy Flynn, her first novel. She lives in London.
Did you know that 92% of chart songs talk about sex? I didn’t until I read Girls & Sex by journalist Peggy Orenstein (out in October). If you look at today’s panicked headlines, it might sound like we have an epidemic on our hands: ‘casual hook-up culture invades universities’ and ‘primary school boys watching porn’. It’s little wonder we all think everyone else is at it! Refusing to buy into all the scare-mongering, Peggy decided to reach out to girls at high school and university and ask them the questions very few parents dare to ask. The results are both fascinating and frightening.
What she discovered was a large gap between perception and reality. Young people overestimate the amount of bed-hopping that actually goes on among their peers. They are not, in fact, having more sex now than in previous generations. What has changed, though, is that relationships are more likely to begin with physical intimacy than with a date. What, so no blushing over a coffee, or touching hands as you both simultaneously dive into the same bag of cinema popcorn, or grabbing a bite to eat that may or may not end with an awkward kiss goodnight? But that’s the best bit!
I’m not the only one who thinks that: Peggy cites one university survey in which 70% believed their fellow students only wanted casual hook-ups. But in reality, nearly 75% of boys and 80% of girls said they’d prefer a date to a hook-up. And nearly 80% of students said they would like to be in a loving relationship. These findings are borne out in Dana Reinhardt’s brilliant Tell Us Something True, when 17-year-old River falls apart after his girlfriend Penny decides to dump him. Until, that is, he finds someone else to be the object of his affection, the damaged but loveable Daphne, even lying about having an addiction just so he can see her at group therapy sessions. Aaah.
Peggy’s findings warmed my heart. Love isn’t dead! Most young people today crave it just as much as they always have. So where has this outwardly casual attitude towards sex come from? One answer suggested in Girls & Sex is porn. It’s an industry that has had serious consequences in terms of the way young people interact – and view themselves. Especially girls. So many of them share stories about how hard it is to get male attention and affection, while also avoiding conflict or being labelled. As one girl said: “every girl’s goal is to be just slutty enough, where you’re not a prude, but you’re not a whore”. What a complicated balancing act; I bet hardly anyone succeeds. What success in relationships might actually look like is another issue raised in the book – the popular baseball metaphor of reaching first base, second base, third and fourth makes physical intimacy sound like a game – one with opposing teams, winners and losers.
So who are the losers here? The young women in Girls & Sex are mostly strong and confident, but when it comes to relationships, it often goes out of the window. They feel such pressure to act in a certain way; a way that puts a man’s needs and desires before their own.
The struggle is real in Kathleen Glasgow’s Girl in Pieces (out in October), the heart-breaking story of Charlie, a teenage girl battling with her identity after suffering sexual abuse in the past. But as she pieces herself back together, her story offers hope to anyone who feels lost amidst all the expectations and pressures, and provides the building blocks to become strong and empowered women. Just like Kady, the gutsy, fearless and crazily smart heroine in Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman’s trilogy The Iluminae Files (the second book, Gemina, is out in October). Don’t we all wish that for ourselves and for our daughters?
Decades of progress in gender equality have been made in the workplace and in politics. Now it needs to be recognised behind closed doors and underneath the bed covers too. This is what Peggy hopes to do with her book; by starting a conversation between parents and their sons and daughters, and among young people themselves, she hopes the world will wake up and take notice, and not let the internet and chart hits decide our relationships for us. Because, as Peggy warns, ‘as long as adults still avoid open discussion of sexuality, teens will inevitably seek information on today’s electronic street corner’.
Fortunately, books can be a great source of inspiration to encourage us not to follow the digital herd.
A Review of “Plague Dogs” by Richard Adams
I don’t really know what I was expecting from a Richard Adams book. Adams’s reputation for gory gut wrenches featuring four legged protagonists is inescapable. In an alternate universe, this might even be a review of Adams’s similar story, Watership Down. There are clear parallels between the two novels: both feature animal protagonists; both are very dark; and one of the main characters from Plague Dogs, Snitter, shares similar brain damage symptoms to the character, Fiver, from Watership Down.
A novel being narrated from the point of view of an animal is nothing new; however, I initially found it jarring to read a novel told from the point of view of two dogs. Suffice to say, I got over this hang-up sooner than expected and, in fact, grew to like it. There’s a line towards the beginning of the novel in which one of the two canine protagonists talks about a “Whitecoat making the gesture to create light”. Obviously, this is a person in a white lab coat using their hand to turn on a light switch, but from a dog’s point of view, magic is being performed. Adams’s treatment of moments such as this is touching without being cliched or cutesy. Crucially, it provided the reassurance I had hoped for that my time would be well spent and no doubt about it, he’s an expert storyteller who writes with skill and style, and his chosen point of view – the two dogs – appeared pretty quickly for what it is: a master stroke.
I’m not a particularly sentimental person but even I grew to care about and root for the book’s canine heroes, Rowf & Snitter. These are two dogs used for – frankly – inhumane experiments, and who make a miraculous escape in an attempt to hide from those who would seek to return them to captivity. Along the way they are helped by Tod, a fox with a thick Scottish accent (how cool is that!) and they encounter a naturalist, Sir Peter Markham Scott, who helps the justifiably jaded Rowf to understand that not all humans are bad.
But this is no mushy sentimental book – by any stretch of the imagination. Those familiar with Adams’s work will understand that it is bleak and painful and tragic: an emotional runaway train ride. Brace yourself for an ending which is nothing short of shocking. But that’s a good thing because it reveals Adams’s supreme skill in reaching us to the point that we truly care about these characters. Although I shed no tears, I have spoken to people who have said that they were physically unable to read the ending, and others who did said that they could never read the book again.
Part of the reason everything hits so hard in Plague Dogs is because the world we are invited to inhabit feels so real. Not an easy feat when the main characters are talking dogs. Adams’s writing style is graceful yet packs a mighty punch; it’s dark but somehow dazzles.
If I can’t give Plague Dogs a resounding ovation, it is simply because it’s not the genre of book I normally go for. That said, I know a good book when I read one.
Go buy it.
We’re pretty dang excited to publish Dana Reinhardt’s eighth novel, Tell Us Something True, which will be coming out in the UK in July. We certainly wanted to get to know Dana better, and thought our readers would like to as well. So without further ado, let’s meet Dana!
I think the learning came later, though the mistakes came early and often. Part of growing up and growing as a person is recognizing that no matter how all consuming romantic love is, it cannot be the only reason you get out of bed in the morning. That’s River’s primary mistake. He pins everything on Penny. I think we all do that when we’re younger and in the throes of first love, and as we get older, it’s not that we love any less, or with less ferocity, it’s that we know that love has to be about more than worship, and we cannot nor should not lose ourselves in our relationships.
I don’t think of River as hapless, in fact I think of him as someone who is extraordinarily lucky, he just doesn’t know it, and part of what happens to him over the course of the story is that he begins to recognize the ways in which the stars have aligned for him. I think of River as more clueless than hapless, and yes, he was really fun to write because most of my novels are narrated by hyper-verbal, hyper-aware girls who tend to be more clued in than the people around them. River was a nice change.
I was walking my dog around Stowe Lake in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, where I currently live. This was while I was in the thinking phase of the writing process, meaning that I didn’t bring my headphones to listen to podcasts (something I typically do while walking), instead I was using the time to let my mind wander and sort through some unformed story ideas I’d been working on. It was a gorgeous day. The light was perfect. A warm breeze blew through the trees. I saw a young couple out in a pedal boat in the middle of the lake and for a minute I thought: Oh, how nice. How romantic. And then I thought: What if she brought him out here today, to the middle of the lake, just to break up with him? I couldn’t walk home fast enough. I was dying to write what became the first scene in the book.
I wish I could say that writing books has gotten easier. That I’ve nailed a routine. That I’ve become a pro. But unfortunately, if anything, writing has gotten harder. I’m not entirely sure why. I think I know too much now, and I tend to hear editors’ voices, readers’ voices and critics’ voices in my head while I write. When I wrote my first book I figured nobody would ever read it so I wrote in utter silence. Now, I spend a great deal of effort trying to find that silence again. But on the positive side, I’ve learned to relax. If I’m stuck, or I should say when I’m stuck, I don’t panic. I know there’s a way out. That I’ll find the path. That, as River’s step father would say, “There’s always a way through the thicket.”
I think the one common thread that runs through every book I’ve written is that there is always a strong sibling bond for at least one of the characters. In my family, I was the little sister. So maybe with River, it was easy for me to imagine the way he might adore the precocious little Natalie! If I’ve learned anything about myself through my own writing it’s that my relationship with my brothers was more important and impactful than I’d realized. It must have been, since it always infiltrates my writing. And maybe in returning again and again to siblings who adore each other, I’m trying to write the relationship I hope my daughters will have.
It’s what I know. Even though I am adult now and I am part of my own nuclear family, when I imagine family from a young person’s perspective, I imagine it fractured because that’s how I grew up, in a fractured family. Though I was a child of divorce, I never doubted my parents’ love. They did an amazing job divorcing. Truly. They had the kind of divorce I’d want to emulate if I wanted to divorce, which luckily I don’t because I’m quite fond of my husband. But before I married him, I did spend time imagining what type of person he’d be if things went south for us. Would he be spiteful and petty? Would he be there for the kids? I knew the answers were no and yes. He thinks this is the most unromantic thing ever. For me, it was practical. And ultimately romantic.
It’s not really a break up story in that technically, I don’t think we ever broke up, but I will tell you the story of my first love. His name was Matthew. We went to preschool together. He had a huge head of crazy curls and crooked teeth. He was undeniably goofy looking, but I absolutely adored him. My best friend married us beneath a tree in the play yard. We used baggie ties for rings. Eventually we graduated from pre-school and went to different elementary schools and time marched on and he became nothing but a sweet, tender memory. My Matthew. My best friend and I talked about that day of the wedding often over the years that followed and she’d tease me about it a little, but mostly with the passage of time, as I began to navigate the tricky waters of adolescent dating, he became the symbol of the perfect boyfriend. The gold standard. The one against whom I measured everyone else. And then, many years later and 3,000 miles from home, I ran into Matthew. It was my freshman year of college. He was a sophomore—apparently in addition to his dashing looks he was some sort of a genius, smart enough at least to have skipped the first grade. When I heard his name and saw his face I knew it had to be my Matthew. So I approached him in the dining hall. My heart was like a swarm of bees in my chest. Matthew, I said. Do you remember…? He didn’t. He had absolutely no idea who I was. No memory at all of me. Of our love. Or our wedding beneath the tree in the play yard. He did not idealize me or think of me as the gold standard as he began to navigate the treacherous waters of adolescent dating. I was nobody to him. That stung a little. Okay, so maybe it stung a lot.
Well, I guess it’s enough of a thing that there was a huge pop song in the late 80’s about how nobody walks in LA. I know that’s at odds with the other reputation LA has as a place where people spend an extraordinary amount of time exercising. If you head down to the beach, you’ll see throngs of people walking and running in expensive and flattering work out gear, but as a means of getting from one place to another, yes, I think walking in LA is really that unheard of.
Tags: Tell Us Something True